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Out of sight does not mean out of mind: How to measure WFH productivity

The virus forced our world into lockdown.  When it happened, it was swift. We knew it was coming.  We’d seen it unfolding on our television screens every night as the virus swept across continents. We watched our fellow Australians disembarked a plane and taken into quarantine. And we say, ‘It won’t happen to me.’ How many times has fate proven that it will?

The coronavirus is an ill wind that bears no good.  But some of the disruptions and chaos it caused may result in some good after all. The world started an unprecedented work from home experiment because we were forced to.  However, we learned to appreciate a group of workers that in the past we have stigmatised. We discovered we were not only great multitaskers we were brilliant techies too.  Our children got to spend more time with us.  We started playing with the dog again. We learned working from home wasn’t all that bad.

 

Working from home reality

One of the questions I get all the time is: ‘How prepared should my organisation be?’  Very prepared is what I tell my clients.  But not over-prepared.

Policies and procedures provide structure and guidance for employees.  Organisations need them to meet organisational goals.  Staff need them so they don’t make costly mistakes.  Teams need them so every member can contribute meaningfully to a project.  Managers use them as checks and balances against productivity.

Although it’s preferable to establish clear remote-work policies and to train staff in advance, in times of crisis this level of detailed planning is not viable.  The variables are changing all the time and you may be required to think and act quickly.

Fortunately, if you have some contextual understanding of the key variables, you can form strategies to improve work from home productivity even when there is little time to prepare.

So, this week, we are going to look at some of the common challenges faced by remote work.  If you know what challenges your people are facing when they are at home, you will be in a better position to help them overcome these hurdles.

 

Common work from home challenges

Working from home is demanding.  You and your staff have been taken out of your comfort zones.  You are now in an environment where distractions can occur unexpectedly and frequently.   Everyone is going to be affected – including your star performer and you.

Expect some productivity and engagement to suffer because of working from home especially when employees do not have the buffer of face-to-face encouragement and the benefit of training.

 

Some of the common challenges include:

1. Lack of face-to-face supervision

Supervising a staff online is harder than supervising them in the office because you cannot rely on non-verbal cues to guide you.  Non-verbals are very important because they give us insights into what a person is thinking or feeling.   If you are teaching a new procedure, you can tell by looking at the participant if he/she understood what you were saying.  You can’t do that if you are trying to instruct online.

Transpose your working from home difficulties to that of your staff and you will begin to understand the challenges they must be facing when they are at home. We understand the point is to increase engagement and productivity from home, and what better way to do that than put yourself in their shoes.

 

2. Lack of access

No one has access to instantaneous information.  In the past, if you needed information, you just ask them, face-to-face.  When you are working from home, you navigate through layers of electronic files to find what you want.  Sending an email sometimes work, but there is still a waiting period for the recipient to respond. Time will feel like an eternity when you are working from home.  You can pick up the phone and call someone, but you can’t do this ten times a day when you are working from home.   If they are working from home, they could be occupied with the kids and cannot take your call.  Do you get angry with them then?

This phenomenon extends beyond tasks.  It affects interpersonal relationships as well.  A lack of mutual knowledge among remote workers can translate to an unwillingness to give your colleague the benefit of the doubt.   In the office environment, it is different.  If you know a colleague is having a bad day and he/she sends out a brusque email, you are more likely to let it slide.  In the online world, you read the email and you are immediately upset.  Things spiral out of control after that.

 

3. Social isolation and loneliness

Humans are social.  We need interaction and stimulation with others.  Working from home deprives us of the serendipity of the office.  No matter how we spin it, working with the dog and a three-year-old as our colleagues are not ideal.

Studies have shown that loneliness is one of the most common complaints about working from home.   Extroverted personalities tend to feel isolation more in the short run.  However, prolonged self-isolation can impact every personality type.   Individuals who do not have opportunities to connect with others will eventually start to feel detached from the group.  Their sense of belonging diminishes and over time their intention to leave increases.

 

4. Home environments

Because work from home happened so suddenly, expect that some employees may be working in suboptimal conditions.  Problems with the internet, interruptions from the family, unexpected parenting responsibilities can and will occur.  Managers must be prepared for these interruptions and not be upset by them.

 

5. Stress and anxiety

Your staff may be going through an insurmountable amount of stress.  You do not know this because they are not telling you.  Balancing work with home is not easy especially if they have young children or an elderly parent. Even if they are home alone, this was not expected.  Ensuring your staffs health and wellbeing during coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important things you must do.  Staff who are not mentally and physically fit will not be able to deliver the results you want.

 

How to support your WFH employees.

Working from home may be challenging but there are some quick and effective things you can do to make it easier for your staff to transition. This will increase engagement and productivity at their job.

Here are some things you can do:

Establish structure with daily check-ins

Structure is important.  Before the coronavirus, everyone has a structure.  There is an office to report to.  There is a time to start work and a time to end work.  There are regular meetings and annual events.

Set up a structure so your staff can establish control over their environment.  Establish some rules of engagement i.e. frequency, a medium of communication, ideal timing and so forth.

  • Daily check-ins via Zoom or phone
  • 15-minute huddle meetings
  • Weekly staff update via Zoom

The important thing about structure is that calls, or meetings must be regular and predictable.  Take this opportunity to debrief, instruct, motivate, share and inform.

 

Relinquish some control

Traditional top-down management styles will not work in working from home environments.  Your staff is not in the office during the eight-hours of work.  You cannot go to their home to watch what they are doing.  The best way is to give them some autonomy over the work they are doing.  So long as you have regular catchups, you will still be able to keep a handle on things.

Giving them control during a crisis shows them you trust them and believe that they will do a good job and not disappoint you.

 

Encourage two-way communication

Give staff plenty of opportunities during catchups to ask questions.  Relay information so everyone is up to date with developments.  Allay their fears about job security.  Ask them about their health.

 

Provide opportunities for remote social interaction

The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning or end of a team call to discuss non-work items.  Other options include virtual lunches and pizza parties (order pizzas and have them delivered to each member of the team), Friday night socials and so forth. Get the staff to give their suggestions and encourage them to organise these events.

 

Offer encouragement and support

A simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way in making someone happy.  Always congratulate a team member if they have done a good job.  Personalise the message with a badge that they can treasure and share this with others in the team.  If a team member is feeling stressed or anxious, find the time to talk to them privately.  Offer any assistance you can and check on them again later to make sure they are coping.

 

Channel your leadership

Studies on emotional intelligence show employees look to their managers for cues about how to react in a crisis.  If the manager communicates stress and bewilderment this ‘trickles down’ to the employees and they will feel fearful and helpless.

Effective leaders use a two-prong approach when dealing with a difficult situation.  Acknowledge the difficulty they are facing then reiterate your confidence in them. Say something like ‘I know it’s hard.  But we can pull through if we do it together’.

 

 

We hope you’ve found this article useful.  Drop us a line. We’d love to hear how your organisation has been managing your work from home environment.